Towner: Businesses have a crucial role to play in suppressing COVID-19
Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom reintroduced restrictions on public venues in attempt to control a surge in COVID-19 infections. The order called for closing all indoor operations at bars, wineries, tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos, museums and cardrooms.
Closer to home, Ventura County public health officials are closely watching the number of COVID cases as they weigh when and how to reopen the local economy. A critically important gauge is the number of new cases reported over the last 14 days, which needs to be less than 100 per 100,000 residents. Ventura County currently does not currently meet that threshold.
Over the last two weeks, health officials have confirmed 1,910 new cases, which amounts to 225 per 100,000. On the plus side, counties with more than 20 patients are asked to keep recent increases under 8 percent, and Ventura County meets that requirement. In summary, Ventura County is doing well, but not well enough to turn the tide.
Ventura County companies play a critical role in influencing social behavior that can aid in curbing COVID cases and hasten a recovery. Research from polling firm Gallup in mid-April found 52 percent of employees strongly agree that their employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to the coronavirus, an improvement of 15 percentage points from mid-March.
Behavior modeled by leaders in a work setting influences behaviors in a social setting. The healthcare industry offers lessons for businesses in protecting employees and their families. Here are ways businesses can aid in flattening the COVID curve and achieving a quicker recovery:
• Act, do not lecture. At the onset of the pandemic, healthcare organizations sprang into action to identify problems like shelter and food for essential healthcare workers. Local businesses can similarly proactively address employee needs by providing a clear plan of action for keeping employees updated—even in the case of bad news such as a COVID infection—and creating workforce procedures to ensure a healthy environment, such as requiring social distancing and face masks. Employers play a major role in setting the expected norms and must reinforce policies and procedures to aid in flattening the curve.
• Work collaboratively. Working together improves compliance and outcomes. At the onset of the pandemic, Ventura County Healthcare Foundation immediately sought out best practices from organizations such as community partners as well as experts in areas already managing COVID, like the University of Washington. Today, the county of Ventura is encouraging collaboration between the county and local businesses through VCemergency.com and www.vcreopens.com to access and share information regarding free testing services. It will take a collaborative effort from all players to get through the crisis with the least amount of illnesses and mortality.
• Redefine work and work settings. Many local employers are redefining work roles and responsibilities, resetting expectations, and reoutfitting employees with materials and equipment with examples from healthcare. Thankfully, businesses don’t need to go it alone. In addition to county resources, the Society for Human Resources Management offers many no-cost resources to help companies with practical approaches, such as how to conduct temperature checks and access state and local resources.
To reopen, we must double down on protective measures as a county, state and nation. But we must do it wisely and quickly. Businesses are instituting rigorous social distancing, temperature checks, sanitizing, return to work testing, contact tracing and other preventative measures. This is a new workplace normal.
Together these steps can help curb escalation and reduce the extent of a second lockdown later this year and reduce the number of COVID-19 related deaths. Indeed, as businesses and business leaders help turn the tide on infections from this insidious virus, Ventura County can focus on a full COVID comeback.
— Amy Towner is CEO of Health Care Foundation for Ventura County and recently earned an MBA in the Presidents and Key Executives (PKE) program at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.